Sun, May 06, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Communist rebels abduct Philippine mayor in ambush

STAND OFF The mayor of Pola township sought refuge in a village house, but gave himself up when guerrillas threatened to kill all of the occupants

AP , MANILA

Communist rebels abducted a Philippine mayor campaigning for re-election after killing two of his bodyguards in an ambush, but the official later escaped, police said yesterday.

Alex Aranas, mayor of Pola township in Mindoro Oriental Province, south of Manila, had just finished campaigning in a village late on Friday when his group was attacked by about 30 New People's Army guerrillas, regional police chief Napoleon Cachuela said. Two of his bodyguards were killed.

Aranas and his two other security escorts, both soldiers, sought refuge in a nearby house owned by a friend. The guerrillas threatened to burn it down and kill all occupants if they did not yield. The mayor and his guards then gave themselves up, police said.

Cachuela said Aranas and the two soldiers escaped hours later. He did not give details.

SECOND TIME

It was the second time Aranas was seized by the rebels. He was snatched along with about a dozen other people during the 2004 election campaign.

The rebels released Aranas and 10 others within hours. Two soldiers in his security detail were later abandoned by the guerrillas during a clash with the military two days later.

Aranas said at the time that the rebels demanded a so-called "permit to campaign" fee that would allow politicians to campaign in their areas. It was uncertain whether Aranas paid it then, and if the rebels were again demanding money.

The government has condemned the practice as extortion and warned candidates not to comply.

The Maoist rebels, which the US and the EU consider a terrorist group, have been waging a Marxist rebellion since the late 1960s. The military estimates they have about 7,000 fighters, and the rebels claim to have a presence in nearly 70 of the Philippines' 79 provinces.

ELECTION VIOLENCE

The attack on Aranas was the latest in a string of election-related violence in the run-up to the balloting on May 14.

In the bloodiest attack so far, six relatives of a town mayor now running for a congressional seat were killed in an ambush on Friday while returning from a funeral in northern Abra Province.

Three others were wounded.

More than 75 have been killed and at least 82 wounded since January when campaigning for local and congressional elections began, police said.

Almost 150 deaths were recorded during the hotly contested 2004 election.

Nearly 87,000 candidates are vying for 17,000 national and local positions, including 265 seats in the House of Representatives and half of the 24 Senate seats.

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